Henry Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Henry Surname Meaning

Henry, originally Henri, was a French given name that was brought to England by the Normans in 1066. Its roots are Germanic, from the Heinrich name composed of the elements heim meaning “home” and ric meaning “power.”

The Scottish versions were Henry and its variants Hendry and Hendrie where the “d” is intrusive. This also happened with Henderson. There were a number of Irish versions of the name – such as McHenry, McEnery and McKendrie – generally from Gaelic sources.

Henry Surname Resources on The Internet

Henry and Hendry Surname Ancestry

  • from England, France, Scotland and Ireland
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Henri was a king in France in the 11th century and Henry developed there as a surname, mainly in northern France. The numbers today total some 45,000. Brittany was an early concentration of the name. There are now more in NE France, particularly in Lorraine.

England.  Henry in England often became Harry which provided the route to the Harris surname. There was a William Herry in Colchester in 1337, a William Harrys in Oxfordshire in 1406, and a Harris family at Radford manor in Devon from about 1450.

Henry as a surname was slower to develop. One Henry family came about through the old Welsh patronymic system:

  • Henry Williams was Welsh and lived at Briton’s ferry between Neath and Swansea in the early 1600’s
  • while his son John, who came to London in the employ of the Earl of Pembroke, took his father’s first name Henry as his surname.

John’s son Philip Henry was a Nonconformist clergyman in Shropshire who was imprisoned for his preachings during the Restoration. His son Matthew preached at a time when the political climate was kinder and became known for his Bible commentaries. Matthew had four sisters, one of whom, Sarah Savage, kept a diary which was published. Her descendant Sarah Lawrence wrote a genealogy of the family, Descendants of Philip Henry, in 1844.

Many of the Henrys in England were of Scottish origin and were to be found more in northern England.  Alexander Henry, who had earlier emigrated to America with his family, returned to England in 1804 and established with his brother Samuel the cotton merchant company of A & S Henry & Co in Manchester. They prospered.  The next generation of the family ventured into politics and became MP’s, John with the Conservatives and Mitchell with the Liberals.

Some other Henrys in Lancashire were of Irish origin; while James Henry from Derry came to Durham in the 1870’s to find work in the mining industry.

Channel Islands. French Henrys brought the name to the Channel Islands. Thomas Henry was listed as a Jurat of Guernsey in 1527 and Peter Henry in 1547.  There were 152 Henrys in the Channel Islands in the 1881 census.

Scotland.  The Henry, Hendry, and Hendrie names all appear in Scotland. Hendry is somewhat the more common today, followed by Henry, while the Hendrie version, probably originating in Ayrshire, is much smaller in number.

The Henry and Hendry names have spanned most of Scotland – from Aberdeenshire in the northeast to Ayrshire in the southwest. Henry was found further south, in the Scottish borders, and further north, in the Shetland Isles where the Henrys of Bayhall had been established in Walls parish as early as 1622.

Ireland. Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century showed two clusters of Henrys in Ireland:

  • the first was in Ulster, mainly in Derry but also in Antrim and Tyrone
  • the second was on the west coast, in Sligo and also in Mayo.

Ulster. Gaelic Henrys were to be found in Ulster. O’Henerys or McHenrys derived from a Gaelic chieftain O’hIinneirghe at Cullentra in Tyrone who migrated to the Glenconkeiny valley in Derry. And there were also two Henry Gaelic groups in Antrim.

One notable Henry from Derry was Denis Henry, born in Draperstown in 1864. He was the only Roman Catholic to have become an Ulster Unionist MP and be the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland. He had in fact come from a well-established wealthy Derry family that had arrived from London at the time of the 17th century Ulster plantations.

More of the Henrys in Derry were descendants of Scots who had crossed the Irish Sea from Ayrshire.  John Henry reportedly held lands near Coleraine in 1681; while the Rev. Robert Henry of Fairview House was the minister at the Castle-Dawson Presbyterian church for 57 years – from his ordination in 1743 until his retirement in 1800 at the age of 92.  Both of these families had offspring who emigrated to America in the 1700’s.

Elsewhere.  Henrys were also on the west coast, in Sligo. Paul Henry was born in the small village of Cloonlarhan around the year 1770. By the mid-1800’s, the main numbers were to be found around Achonry. 

America.  The Henrys who came to America during the colonial era tended to be either Scots or Scots Irish.

Scots.  Patrick Henry was a famed orator in Virginia in pre-Revolutionary days.  His father John had come from Aberdeenshire in 1727. Patrick’s elder brother, Judge James Henry, was the progenitor of the Henry family in Accomac county, Virginia. He was a wealthy man and friend to George Washington.

Robert Hendry from the Isle of Arran off Ayrshire fought on the British side in the Revolutionary War and afterwards stayed.  He and his family moved to Georgia in 1796.  His grandson James migrated to Florida in 1852 and his son Francis was a prominent rancher there.  Hendry county in Florida was named after him.

Scots Irish.  Other Henrys were from Ireland.  The Rev. John Henry arrived in Maryland in 1710 and was the Presbyterian minister at Pokomoke church in Somerset county. His grandson John Henry was Senator of Maryland in 1789 and subsequently its Governor.

John and Robert Henry came from Coleraine in Derry to Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1722.  John Henry married a Huguenot and died in 1747.  Robert Henry was the proud holder of a signet ring which has been handed down in the family.  They were the forebears of five generations of Henry gunsmiths.  The family line extended for nearly two hundred years – from the first William Henry in the 1750’s to Granville Henry who died in 1912.

James McHenry, later a well-known surgeon in the Revolutionary War, came in 1771 reportedly for health reasons. William Henry, also a distinguished patriot, had arrived earlier in 1734.  

“William Henry came from a well-to-do family in Tyrone. His father had remarried after his mother had died. William, not liking his new mother, ran away to America.”  

William Henry died in South Carolina in 1819 at the reported age of 104.

Thomas Henry meanwhile was a stowaway carpenter who had arrived in Virginia with a Welsh wife sometime in the 1760’s. Their third son Robert had fought as a lad at King’s Mountain in 1780 and was later an eccentric pioneer in Asheville, North Carolina. He established an early health spa at Sulphur Springs.

One Scots Irish arrival, Robert Henry, came to Albany, New York in the 1750’s and became one of the town’s leading traders, active on the American side during the Revolutionary War.  Another Henry – William Henry from Scotland – came to Albany with his parents in the 1770’s.  He was a man of modest means.  But his son Joseph Henry rose to prominence as a scientist and was appointed the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in 1846.

Arrivals from Elsewhere.  According to family lore, John Henry had come to Philadelphia from Amsterdam around the year 1800, also as a stowaway.  He and his wife Elizabeth were considered Pennsylvania Dutch. They settled in Scott county, Virginia. Later Henrys migrated west to Kentucky.

A number of Acadian Henrys had found refuge in Louisiana, arriving there from France in 1785. Their numbers included Jean Baptiste Henry, whose line was traced in Sandra Henry’s 1999 book The Families of Jean Baptiste Theodore Henry.

Canada. The first Henrys in Canada (or what was then New France) came from France. Robert Henry, aged twenty and illiterate, arrived at Trois-Rivieres from Normandy in 1665. His descendants were caught up in the Acadian deportations of the 1750’s, with one son Pierre returning to France.

Alexander Henry, said to have been related to the English Nonconformist minister Matthew Henry, came to Montreal in 1760 soon after the French defeat and established himself as one of the pioneers of the British-Canadian fur trade.

“An easy and dignified raconteur, Henry was invited in 1776 to give an account of his journeys at the Royal Society in London and to Queen Marie Antoinette at Versailles. Later he published his Travels and Adventures in Canada, now considered an adventure classic.”  

He joined forces in 1792 with his nephew of the same name to become a partner in the North West Company (later to be merged with the Hudson Bay Company).

Two Irish-born Henrys arrived in Canada around the year 1811:

  • one was John Henery (subsequently Henry) from Cavan who came to Toronto and later moved with his family to a farm at Oshawa on Lake Ontario. His son the Rev. Thomas Henry was a well-known minister of the Christian Church.
  • the other was Robert Henry from Newry in county Down who came to Halifax where he operated a timber business. His son William Alexander Henry became a prominent judge and politician in Nova Scotia.

Australia. John Henry and his family from Ayrshire in Scotland came to Australia on the William Rodgers in 1838. John was by trade a carpenter and they settled in the Kiama district of NSW.

New Zealand.  A Henry family migrated to New Zealand from Midlothian in Scotland in the 1870’s. On arrival they founded a timber-milling operation near Riverton in Southland.

Buttressed by their Presbyterian faith and an ethic for hard work, they established what was to become in the 1930’s one of New Zealand’s largest industrial enterprises. At that time Sir David Henry established the newer larger New Zealand Forests Products Company. Other family members have branched off into the law and merchant banking.

Henry Surname Miscellany

Henry in the Shetlands.  The Thomas Hendrie who appeared as a minister at Walls as early as 1622 was a brother of Gilbert Hendrie, a merchant and burgess in Aberdeen.  The family name in the Shetlands became Henry with John Thomas Henry in the 1750’s.  He made his home at Bayhall. Archibald Henry of this family, a sea captain, died in 1837 on the Mississippi river.

Another line of the family was to be found at Burrastow House.  This was sold in 1888 and now functions as a holiday hotel.

The 1881 census recorded a total of 283 Henrys on the Shetland Isles, most of them to be found in the parishes of Walls and Sandsting Aithsting. Oliver Henry, a present-day descendant, has worked for fifty years in the Shetland wool industry.

Henry, Hendry, and Hendrie in the 1881 Scottish Census.  The following were the Henry, Hendry, and Hendrie numbers recorded in the 1881 census in Scotland.

Numbers (000’s) Henry Hendry Hendrie
Shetlands    0.3
Aberdeenshire    0.3    0.4
Morayshire    0.2
Banffshire    0.1    0.2
Angus    0.2    0.4
Midlothian    0.3    0.2    0.1
Lanarkshire    0.7    1.0    0.2
Renfrewshire    0.1    0.4
Ayrshire    0.1    0.2    0.1
Border counties    0.4    0.1
Elsewhere    0.1    0.2
Total    2.7    3.3    0.4

Gaelic Henrys in Antrim.  There were two notable early Gaelic Henry groupings on the north coast of county Antrim.

The McHenrys of the Bushmills area and around Ballyrashane parish were a branch of the O’Cathain clan, descended from Enri O’Cathain (Henry O’Cahan) in the mid-1400’s.  They were called clan Mhic Enri or, in English, the McHenrys of Loughan.  The family was to be found on the eastern banks of the Bann river.

There was a second group of Henrys in the Bann valley, their DNA results revealing that they were a match to a Gaelic kinship group from mid-Argyll in Scotland. A number of Gael migrations had occurred from Argyll to Ulster and Henrys were among those who had moved.  In Gaelic their name is MacEanruig.  They used several anglicized forms, the main ones being Henry and Henrie.

Patrick Henry’s Antecedents.  In a 1790 letter to Patrick Henry written by his cousin Margaret Donald which outlined a brief family history, she called their grandparents Alex Henry and Jean Robertson, stating that they were the parents to two sons and three daughters.

From this, people have assumed that his grandparents were Alexander Henry and Jean Robertson.  Actual records in Aberdeenshire, Scotland showed his grandfather was officially known as Patrick, rather than Alexander, and was a school master.

Patrick’s son John was the emigrant to America, arriving there in 1727.  John’s brother Patrick, an Episcopalian minister, followed him in 1733. The two brothers were very much attached to each other and ever afterwards lived not far apart.

Some Henry Arrivals in America from Ireland

Birth Arrival Comments
John Henry 1681/Derry Around 1715 in RI Descendants in IL
John Henry 1701/Derry Around 1725 in PA
(Chester co)
Barnabas McHenry 1715/Antrim Around 1730 in VA Killed in battle in 1754
(Augusta co)
William Henry 1715/Tyrone Around 1734 in SC Patriot in Rev. War
(York co)
Thomas Henry 1719/ Ulster Around 1760 in NC Patriot in Rev. War
(Lincoln  co)
Henry Henry 1722/Ireland Around 1760 in VA Descendants in TN
(Augusta co)
William Henry 1734/Derry Around 1770 in VT Descendants in NY
John Henry 1740/Down Around 1765 in VA Four wives/14 children
James McHenry 1751/Antrim Around 1771 in PA Surgeon in Rev. War
Alexander Henry 1763/Down Around 1783 in PA Prominent merchant
John Henry 1763/Derry Around 1800 in OH One son in Canada

Most of these Henrys from Ulster were Scots Irish.

Reader Feedback – Robert Henry’s Signet Ring from Coleraine and Pennsylvania.  I am doing research on my cousin Henry who came from the gunsmiths of Pennsylvania.

The first Henrys shipped from Coleraine in 1722 to New Castle, Delaware and made their way to Pennsylvania.  My cousin has a signet ring from the original Robert Henry. I’m trying to complete the family story.

It says under siege somewhere in Scotland Robert was given from his mother at the age of fourteen as proof of family identity to his uncles in, we think, was Ireland and that they were merchants.  I’d like to find out where in Scotland was Robert was born and who were his uncles that probably had the same ring.

It says that Robert came to America with his wife Mary Ann and three sons John, James, and Robert. Are there any records that you might know where Robert married and had the three sons. I have some pictures of the ring i could send if you are interested.

Bill passed away two years ago.  He volunteered at the Jacobsburg and Henry Gun Factory Museum. The ring has a red griffin’s head on white onyx and the ring is gold.

Sincerely, John Martin (lranger@ix.netcom.com)

William Henry and Huck’s Defeat.  William Henry had emigrated from Tyrone in Ireland to America in 1734 and made his home at Henry’s Knob in York county, South Carolina.

When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1776, William was a staunch American patriot, although at the age of sixty one was too old to fight.  However, four of his sons – John, William, Malcolm, and Alexander – actively took up the patriot cause espoused by their father.

A family tradition, long quoted, has said that William Henry, along with his sons, turned out on July 12, 1780 to capture the marauding Tories under Captain Christian Huck of Banastre Tarleton’s Legion. That was when an American force under General Thomas Sumter attacked Captain Huck at James Williamson’s plantation in southern York County, slaying Huck and driving off his troops with heavy loss. The engagement was known as Huck’s Defeat.

Years later, in 1839, the Battle of Huck’s Defeat was commemorated in a celebration at Brattonsville. The published proceedings of that occasion record that “the 26th toast of the day was drunk (with spring water) to William Henry and his four sons, true patriots, brave and fearless soldiers.”

The Rev. Thomas Henry of Oshawa, Ontario.  Thomas Henry was born in 1798 in Cavan county in Ireland and came to Toronto as a boy with his parents in 1811.  Five years later they moved to a farm at Oshawa on the shores of Lake Ontario.

In 1830 Thomas purchased 130 acres of land in East Whitby township and over the next decade he constructed a stone house where he lived until his death.  This is now a museum, the Henry House Museum, maintained in his honor.

Thomas was married twice, first to Elizabeth Davies, with whom he had one daughter who died in infancy and five sons.  After the death of Elizabeth, Thomas met and married Lurenda Abbey and together they had six sons and four daughters.  His family of fifteen surviving children always seemed to impress guests on tour!

Thomas Henry died in 1879 at the age of 81.  It was noted in the local media that more than 85 carriages followed Thomas to his final resting spot in the Port Oshawa Pioneer Cemetery.  He was well-known in the community as a farmer and harbourmaster, as well as a minister.

After he died, his daughter-in-law Polly Ann Henry wrote A Memoir of Rev. Thomas Henry, a comprehensive if biased narrative about his life and times.  Mildred Fletcher’s 1978 booklet The Rev. Thomas Henry and His Known Descendants covered his later line.

Henry Names

  • Alexander Henry was one of the pioneers of the British fur trade in Canada in the 1760’s. 
  • Patrick Henry was a prominent planter, orator and statesman in Virginia during the drive for American independence in the late 18th century. 
  • James McHenry, of Scots Irish roots, was a signer of the US Constitution for Maryland and served as the US Secretary of War from 1796 to 1800. 
  • Joseph Henry, of Scottish origin, was a prominent 19th century American scientist who was appointed the first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute in 1846.
  • O. Henry, the pen name of William Sydney Porter, was a popular American short story writer of the late 19th century. 
  • Lenny Henry, the son of Jamaican immigrants, is a stand-up English comedian, actor, and TV presenter. 
  • John W. Henry made a fortune from his trading company in the 1980’s, with which he acquired a sporting empire – including the Boston Red Sox baseball club and Liverpool football club.
  • Stephen Hendry from Scotland is one of the greatest snooker players ever, winning the world championship seven times between 1990 and 1998.

Henry Numbers Today

  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 61,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Henry and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.


Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *